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Democrats Need to Reclaim the Issue of Manufacturing from Donald Trump

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AP Photo / Jay Janner

During the campaign, Democrats closely associated to Clinton mocked not merely Trump’s contention that he would bring back jobs, but the very idea that it was desirable to do so. In an interview we are publishing with Rob Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology Innovation Project, he argues that manufacturing does matter.

Rob argues that in spite of automation, manufacturing does still create jobs and that by doing so, it creates through the multiplier a host of subsidiary jobs that, say, an increase in home healthcare does not. He also notes that by producing tradable goods, manufacturing reduces our trade deficit. I’d add one more factor. Even if because of automation, an increase in manufacturing output creates proportionately less jobs than it did fifty or a hundred years ago, a growth in advanced manufacturing (e.g. biotech, semiconductors) can produce high profit rates and soaring revenues that can finance a far less porous safety net than we now have.

The fly in this magic ointment is Trump’s presidency. As Rob notes, outside of jawboning a few companies and complaining about bad trade deals, Trump has yet to do anything that would actually spur advanced manufacturing. In fact, he is doing less than nothing. In his budget, he cuts rather than increases funds for government programs aimed at helping advanced manufacturing. And his administration appears predictably divided on what to do about the “bad trade deals” that have cost manufacturing jobs.

Trump raised the issue of reviving American manufacturing his campaign – and his success demonstrated that many voters care about what has happened to these jobs – but he is ill prepared to do anything about it. Instead of dismissing these concerns because Trump raised them, Democrats should reclaim them as their own.